The Constitutional History of England From 1760 to 1860
by Charles Duke Yonge
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

It is now generally admitted that the true statesman-like course toward the Colonies was that adopted by Lord Rockingham and his colleagues in 1765—to avoid weakening the supreme power of Parliament by any disavowal of the right to tax but to avoid imperilling the sovereign authority of the King by a novel exertion of it. As much of our common English law is made up of precedent, so, in a still greater degree, are our feelings and ideas of our rights and privileges regulated by precedent. And we lost America because in 1764 and 1767 neither minister nor Parliament took men's feelings and prejudices into account. The loss of the United States, therefore, was a lesson not undeserved; and by our statesmen since that day it has been taken in the right spirit of profiting by its teaching as a guide to their own conduct. Since that day the enterprise of our people has planted our flag in regions far more distant, and has extended the dominion of our sovereign over provinces far more extensive than those which we then lost. And on some of the administrations of the present reign the duty has fallen of framing schemes of government for those new acquisitions, as also for some of those previously possessed. In how different a spirit from that which actuated the early ministers of George III.[57] those to whom the task was committed by Queen Victoria applied themselves to their task may be seen in a maxim laid down by the present Lord Grey, when he presided at the Colonial Office (1846-1852), that "the success of free institutions in any country depends far less upon the particular form of those institutions than upon the character of the people on whom they are conferred." But how he and others in the same office carried out that principle must be reserved for a later chapter.

Besides the numerous motions which were brought forward by the Opposition respecting the continuance and conduct of the war, there were several also which were indirectly prompted by it. The Opposition claimed to be on this subject not only the champions of the real interests of the nation, but also its spokesmen, who expressed the opinions and feelings of all the thinking and independent portion of the people. That their efforts were overborne they attributed to the subservience of the Parliament to the ministers, and of the ministers to the crown.[58] And consequently several motions were made by members of that party, the object of which was, in one way or another, to diminish what they regarded as the undue influence of the crown. In one instance, and that the most successful, a direct denunciation of that influence was employed, but the earlier and more frequent proposals were directed to the purification of the House of Commons, and to the strengthening of its independence. It is remarkable that of these the two which related to a subject of which the Commons are usually most especially and most rightly jealous, the interference of peers in elections, had the worst fortune. In 1780 complaints were made and substantiated that the Duke of Bolton and the Duke of Chandos (who was also Lord-lieutenant of the county) had exerted themselves actively in the last election for Hampshire. And, in support of motions that these peers "had been guilty of a breach of the privileges of the House, and an infringement of the liberties and privileges of the Commons of Great Britain," a case was adduced in which Queen Anne had dismissed the Bishop of Worcester from the office of Almoner for similar interference. Nor did Lord Nugent, a relative of the Duke of Chandos, deny the facts alleged; on the contrary, he avowed them, and adopted a line of defence which many must have thought an aggravation of the charge, since it asserted that to prevent such interference was impossible, and therefore the House would but waste its time in trying. However, on this occasion the House took the view which he thus suggested to it, postponing all farther consideration of the matter for four months; and the charge the Duke of Bolton was shelved in a somewhat similar manner.

Even had these peers and such practices been censured with the very greatest severity, the censures could have had but a very limited effect. But it was on measures of a wider scope, embracing what began to be called a Reform of Parliament, that the more zealous members of the Opposition placed their chief reliance. As far as our records of the debates can be trusted, Lord Chatham, ten years before, had given the first hint of the desirableness of some alteration of the existing system. On one occasion he denounced the small boroughs as "the rotten part of the constitution," thus originating the epithet by which they in time came to be generally described; but more usually he disavowed all idea of disfranchising them, propounding rather a scheme for diminishing their importance by a large addition to the county members. However, he never took any steps to carry out his views, thinking, perhaps, that it was not in the Upper House that such a subject should be first broached. But he had not been long in the grave, when a formal motion for a reform of a different kind was brought forward by one of the members for the City of London, Alderman Sawbridge,[59] who, in May, 1780, applied for leave to bring in "a bill for shortening the duration of Parliaments." His own preference he avowed to be for annual Parliaments; but his suspicion that the House would think such a measure too sweeping had induced him to resolve to content himself with aiming at triennial Parliaments. As leave was refused, the bill proposed to be introduced may, perhaps, be thought disentitled to mention here, were it not that the circumstance that proposals for shortening the duration of Parliaments are still occasionally brought forward seems to warrant an account of a few of the arguments by which those who took the leading parts in the debate which ensued resisted it. The minister, Lord North, declared that the Alderman had misunderstood the views of our ancestors on the subject; as their desire had been, not that Parliament should be elected annually, but that it should sit every year, an end which had now been attained. Fox, on the other hand, while avowing that hitherto he had always opposed similar motions, declared his wish now to see not only triennial but annual Parliaments, as the sole means of lessening the influence of the crown. "If any of his constituents were to ask him to what our present misfortunes were ascribable, he should say the first cause was the influence of the crown; the second, the influence of the crown; and the third, the influence of the crown." But it was replied by Burke, who usually exhausted every question he took in hand, that such a bill would rather tend to augment that influence, since "the crown, by its constant stated power, influence, and revenue, would be able to wear out all opposition at elections; that it would not abate the interest or inclination of ministers to apply that interest to the electors; on the contrary, it would render it more necessary to them, if they desired to have a majority in Parliament, to increase the means of that influence, to redouble their diligence, and to sharpen dexterity in the application. The whole effect of the bill would, therefore, be to remove the application of some part of that influence from the elected to the electors, and farther to strengthen and extend a court interest already great and powerful in boroughs. It must greatly increase the cost of a seat in Parliament; and, if contests were frequent, to many they would become a matter of expense totally ruinous, which no fortunes could bear. The expense of the last general election was estimated at L1,500,000; and he remembered well that several agents for boroughs said to candidates, 'Sir, your election will cost you L3000 if you are independent; but, if the ministry supports you, it may be done for L2000, and even less.'" And he adduced the case of Ireland, where formerly, when "a Parliament sat for the King's life, the ordinary charge for a seat was L1500; but now, when it sat for eight years, four sessions, the charge was L2500 and upward." Such a change as was proposed would cause "triennial corruption, triennial drunkenness, triennial idleness, etc., and invigorate personal hatreds that would never be allowed to soften. It would even make the member himself more corrupt, by increasing his dependence on those who could best support him at elections. It would wreck the fortunes of those who stood on their own private means. It would make the electors more venal, and injure the whole body of the people who, whether they have votes or not, are concerned in elections." Finally, it would greatly impair the proper authority of the House itself. "It would deprive it of all power and dignity; and a House of Commons without power and without dignity, either in itself or its members, is no House of Commons for this constitution."

The applicability of some of his arguments—those founded on the disorders at times of election—has been greatly diminished, if not destroyed, at the present day, by the limitation of the polling to a single day. The disfranchisement of the smaller boroughs has neutralized others; but the expense of a general election is not believed to have diminished, and that alone seems a strong objection to a system which would render them more frequent than they are at present. Mr. Sawbridge could not obtain the support of a third of his hearers.[60] But his notions had partisans in the other House who were not discouraged by such a division; and three weeks later the Duke of Richmond brought forward a Reform Bill on so large a scale that, as the "Parliamentary History" records, "it took him an hour and a half to read it," and which contained provisions for annual Parliaments and universal suffrage. But he met with even less favor than the Alderman, and his bill was rejected without a division.

Still the subject was not allowed to rest. Even after Lord North had been replaced by Lord Rockingham, the demand for Parliamentary Reform was continued; the young Mr. Pitt making himself the mouth-piece of the Reformers, and founding a motion which he made in May, 1782, on "the corrupt influence of the crown; an influence which has been pointed at in every period as the fertile source of all our miseries; an influence which has been substituted in the room of wisdom, of activity, of exertion, and of success; an influence which has grown up with our growth and strengthened with our strength, but which, unhappily, has not diminished with our diminution, nor decayed with our decay." He brought forward no specific plan, but denounced the close boroughs, and asked emphatically whether it were "representation" for "some decayed villages, almost destitute of population, to send members to Parliament under the control of the Treasury, or at the bidding of some great lord or commoner." He, however, was defeated, though by the small majority of twenty. And it is remarkable that when, the next year, he revived the subject, developing a more precise scheme—akin to that which his father had suggested, of increasing the number of county members, and including provisions for the disfranchisement of boroughs which had been convicted of systematic corruption—he was beaten by a far larger majority,[61] the distinctness of his plan only serving to increase the numbers of his adversaries. A kinsman of Pitt's, Lord Mahon, made an equally futile attempt to diminish the expenses of elections, partly by inflicting very heavy penalties on parties guilty of either giving or receiving bribes,[62] and partly by prohibiting candidates from providing conveyances for electors; and more than one bill for disfranchising revenue-officers, as being specially liable to pressure from the government, and to prevent contractors from sitting in Parliament, was brought forward, but was lost, the smallness of the divisions in their favor being not the least remarkable circumstance in the early history of Reform. It was made still more evident that as yet the zeal for Reform was confined to a few, when, two years afterward, Pitt, though now invested with all the power of a Prime-minister, was as unable as when in opposition to carry a Reform Bill, which in more than one point foreshadowed the measure of 1832; proposing, as it did, the disfranchisement of thirty-six small boroughs, which were to be purchased of their proprietors nearly on the principle adopted in the Irish Union Act, and on the other hand the enfranchisement of copyholders; but it differed from Lord Grey's act in that it distributed all the seats thus to be obtained among the counties, with the exception of a small addition to the representatives of London and Westminster. However, his supporters very little exceeded the number who had divided with him in 1783, and Lord North, who led the Opposition in a speech denouncing any change, had a majority of seventy-four. After this second defeat, Pitt abandoned the question, at all events for the time; being convinced, to quote Earl Stanhope's description of his opinion on the subject, "that nothing but the pressure of the strongest popular feeling, such as did not then exist, could induce many members to vote against their own tenure of Parliament, or in fact against themselves."[63] What, perhaps, weighed with him more, on deciding to acquiesce in this vote as final, was the perception that as yet the question excited no strong interest out-of-doors; and when, a few years later, some who sought to become leaders of the people endeavored to raise an agitation on the subject, their teachings were too deeply infected with the contagion of the French Revolution to allow a wise ruler to think it consistent with his duty to meet them with anything but the most resolute discouragement.

But, concurrently with the first of these motions for Parliamentary Reform, two more direct attacks on the royal influence, and on what was alleged to be the undue exertion of it, were made in the session of 1780. The first was made by Burke, who brought forward a measure of economical reform, demonstrating, in a speech of extraordinary power, a vast mass of abuses, arising from corrupt waste in almost every department of the state, and in every department of the royal household, without exception, and proposing a most extensive plan of reform, which dealt with royal dignities, such as the Duchy of Lancaster and the other principalities annexed to the crown; with the crown-lands, a great portion of which he proposed to sell; with the offices of the royal household, a sufficient specimen of the abuses on which was furnished by the statement, that the turnspit in the King's kitchen was a member of Parliament; and with many departments of state, such as the Board of Works and the Pay-office, etc. He was studiously cautious in his language, urging, indeed, that his scheme of reform would "extinguish secret corruption almost to the possibility of its existence, and would destroy direct and visible influence equal to the offices of at least fifty members of Parliament," but carefully guarding against any expressions imputing this secret corruption, this influence which it was so desirable to destroy, to the crown. But his supporters were less moderate; and Mr. Thomas Townsend declared that facts which he mentioned "contained the most unquestionable presumptive evidence of the influence of the crown; he meant the diverting of its revenues to purposes which dared not be avowed, in corrupting and influencing the members of both Houses of Parliament;" and he asserted that "the principle and objects of the bill were the reduction of the influence of the crown." The bill was not opposed by the ministers on its principle; but Lord North, even while consenting to its introduction, "did not pledge himself not to oppose it in some or other of its subsequent stages;" and, in fact, his supporters resisted it in almost every detail, some of them utterly denying the right of the House to interfere at all with the expenditure of the civil list; others contesting the propriety of alienating the crown-lands; and a still greater number objecting to the abolition of some of the offices which it was proposed to sweep away, such as that of the "third Secretary of State, or Secretary for the Colonies," that of "Treasurer of the Chamber," and others of a similar character. And, as the minister succeeded in defeating him on several, though by no means all, of these points, Burke at last gave up the bill, Fox warning the House at the same time that it should be renewed session after session, and boasting that even the scanty success which it had met with had been worth the struggle.

The other direct attack was made by Mr. Dunning, who, perhaps, did not then foresee that he himself was destined soon to fill one of the offices which had come under the lash of Burke's sarcasm, and who a few days afterward, in moving that it was necessary to declare "that the influence of the crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished" rested no small portion of his argument on the treatment that Burke's bill had received. He affirmed that, though Lord North had declared that "the influence of the crown was not too great," the divisions on that bill, and on many other measures which had been under discussion, were irrefragable proofs of the contrary. He quoted Hume and Judge Blackstone as testifying to the existence and steady increase of that influence, and "could affirm of his own knowledge, and pledge his honor to the truth of the assertion, that he knew upward of fifty members in that House who always voted in the train of the noble lord in the blue ribbon,[64] but who reprobated and condemned, out of the House, the measures they had supported and voted for in it." Mr. T. Pitt even instanced "the present possession of office by Lord North as an indubitable proof of the enormous influence of the crown."

It was not strange that Lord North opposed a resolution supported by such arguments with all the power of the government, basing his own opposition chiefly on the wisdom "of maintaining the rule long since established by Parliament, never to vote abstract propositions." But he presently saw that he was in a minority, and was forced to be content with adopting and carrying an amendment of Mr. Dundas, one of the members for Edinburgh, who flattered himself that by the insertion of now he converted a general assertion into a temporary declaration, which might at a future time be disavowed as no longer applicable. A majority of eighteen[65] affirmed the resolution; and when the mover followed it up by a second, declaring that "it is competent to this House to examine into and to correct abuses in the expenditure of the civil list revenues, as well as in every other branch of the public revenue, whenever it shall seem expedient to the wisdom of this House to do so," though the minister, with what was almost an appeal ad misericordiam, "implored the House not to proceed," he did not venture to take a division, and that resolution also, with one or two others designed to give instant effect to them, were adopted and reported by the committee to the House in a single evening.[66] The first resolution did, in fact, embody a complaint, or at least an assertion, which the Rockingham party had constantly made ever since the close of the Marquis's first administration. In a speech which he had made only a few weeks before,[67] Lord Rockingham himself had declared that "it was early in the present reign promulgated as a court axiom that the power and influence of the crown alone was sufficient to support any set of men his Majesty might think proper to call to his councils." And Burke, in his "short account" of his administration of 1765, had not only imputed both its formation and its dismissal to the "express request" and "express command of their royal master," but in the sentence, "they discountenanced and, it is to be hoped, forever abolished, the dangerous and unconstitutional practice of removing military officers for their votes in Parliament," condemned with unmistakable plainness some acts of the preceding ministry which were universally understood to have been forced upon it by the King himself. General Conway had been deprived of the colonelcy of his regiment; Lord Rockingham himself, with several other peers, had been dismissed from Lord-lieutenancies, as a punishment for voting against the ministry; such dismissals being a flagrant attempt to put down all freedom of debate in Parliament, which of all its privileges is the one most essential to its usefulness, if not to its very existence. But, as Burke said, the practice had been abandoned, and the first resolution, therefore, as Lord North said, involved no practical result. It is the second resolution that confers a constitutional character and importance on this debate. And it is not too much to say that no vote of greater value had been come to for many years. It might have been considered almost as the assertion of a truism included in the power of granting supplies, to declare that the Parliament has the right and authority to examine into and correct abuses in the expenditure, if it had not been denied by more than one speaker on the ministerial side, though not by the Prime-minister himself. But that denial made the assertion of the right an imperative duty; for certainly the exclusive right of authorizing a levy of money would lose half its value, if unaccompanied by the other right of preventing the waste of the revenue thus raised.

It may likewise be said that another principle of the parliamentary constitution is, by implication, contained in Mr. Dunning's second resolution, and that the words, "it is competent to this House to examine into and to correct abuses in the expenditure," were meant to imply a denial of the competency of the other House to institute, or even to share in, such an examination. Even if that were the object of its framer, it only coincided with the view of the peers themselves, a very considerable majority[68] of whom had, a few weeks before, rejected a motion made by Lord Shelburne for the appointment of "a committee of members of both Houses to examine without delay into the public expenditure," principally on the ground urged by the Secretary of State, Lord Stormont, and by several other peers, that "to inquire into, reform, and control the public expenditure" would be an improper interference with the privileges of the Commons; the Chief-justice, Lord Mansfield, even going the length of warning his brother peers that such interference might probably lead the Commons "to dispute in their turn the power of judicature in the last resort exercised by the peers." Lord Camden, on the contrary, affirmed, as a proposition which "no noble lord present would deny, that that House had a right to inquire so far as the disposal of public moneys came under their cognizance as a deliberative body." And in the Lower House itself, Burke, in his speech in favor of his Bill for Economical Reform, went even farther than Lord Camden, and blamed the House of Lords for rejecting Lord Shelburne's motion on such a ground. "They had gone," he said, "farther in self-denial than the utmost jealousy of the Commons could have required. A power of examining accounts, of censuring, correcting, and punishing the Commons had never, that he knew of, thought of denying to the Lords. It was something more than a century ago that the Commons had voted the Lords a useless body. They had now voted themselves so." And it would seem that the Lords themselves, to a certain extent, retracted this, their self-denying vote, when, before the end of the same session, they discussed Burke's Bill for Economical Reform, and passed it, though it was a money-bill, "containing extraneous enactments," and as such contravened one of their own standing orders which had been passed in the beginning of Queen Anne's reign, when the system of "tacking," as it was called, had excited great discontent, which was not confined to themselves. The propriety of rejecting the bill on that ground was vigorously urged by the only two lawyers who took part in the debate, the Chancellor, Lord Thurlow, and Lord Loughborough, whose object was avowedly thus to give a practical proof that the Lords "had not voted themselves useless." But even those who disregarded their advice fully asserted the right of the peers "to exercise their discretion as legislators." We have noticed this matter on a previous occasion. The privilege claimed by the Commons, both as to its origin and its principle, has been carefully examined by Hallam, who has pointed out that in its full exclusiveness it is not older than Charles II., since the Convention Parliament of 1660 "made several alterations in undoubted money-bills, to which the Commons did not object."[69] And, though his attachment to Whig principles might have inclined him to take their part in any dispute on the subject, he nevertheless thinks that they have strained both "precedent and constitutional analogy" in their assertion of this privilege, which is "an anomaly that can hardly rest on any other ground of defence than such a series of precedents as establish a constitutional usage." The usage which for two centuries was established in this case by the good-sense of both parties clearly was, that the Lords could never originate a money-bill, nor insert any clause in one increasing or even altering the burden laid by one on the people, but that they were within their right in absolutely rejecting one. But such a right has a tendency to lapse through defect of exercise; and we shall hereafter see that "the disposition to make encroachments," which in this matter Hallam imputes to the Commons, has led them in the present reign to carry their pretensions to a height which at a former period had been practically ignored by the one House, and formally disclaimed by the other.

It may be remarked that Mr. Dunning's success in carrying his first resolution did in itself, to a certain extent, disprove the truth of that resolution, since, if the influence of the crown had been such as he represented it, it must have been sufficient to insure its rejection. But that resolution, and a new statute, of which in a previous session he had been one of the principal promoters, are reckoned by Lord Stanhope as among the chief causes of the disgraceful riots of 1780. In the summer of 1778 he had seconded and supported with great eloquence the repeal of some of the penal statutes against the Roman Catholics which had been passed in the reign of William III. It was the first blow at that system of religious intolerance which for nearly a century had been one of the leading principles, as it had been also the chief disgrace, of the constitution; and it was passed with scarcely any opposition by both Houses. As, however, the statute which it repealed had been enacted before the Scotch Union, the repeal did not extend to Scotland, and it was necessary, therefore, to bring in a separate measure for that kingdom. But the intelligence that such a proceeding was in contemplation excited great wrath among the Scotch Presbyterians, who, in the hope of defeating it, established a Protestant Association for the defence of what they called the Protestant interest, and elected as its president Lord George Gordon, a young nobleman whose acts on more than one occasion gave reason to doubt the soundness of his intellect. Against any relaxation whatever of the restrictions on the Roman Catholics the Association sent up petitions to the House and to the King, couched in language the wildness of which was hardly consistent with the respect due to Parliament or to the sovereign. Apparently in the hope of mitigating its opposition, the Houses the next year passed an act, similar in principle, to relax some of the restrictions still imposed on Protestant dissenting ministers by some of the subscriptions which were required of them. But, as in the reign of Charles II., the Presbyterian hatred of the Roman Catholics was too uncompromising to be appeased in such a manner. And when Lord George found the House of Commons itself acknowledging the danger with which the constitution was threatened by the influence of the crown, he saw in their vote a justification for all his alarms, since he had adopted as one of his most settled opinions the belief that George III. was himself a Papist at heart; and, under the influence of this strange idea, he drew up a petition to Parliament which he invited all the members of the Association to accompany him to present. His summons was received with enthusiasm by his followers. The number who, in obedience to it, mustered in St. George's Fields, which he had appointed as the place of rendezvous, was not reckoned by any one at less than fifty thousand, and some calculations even doubled that estimate. Whatever the number may originally have been, it was speedily swelled by the junction of large bands of the worst characters in the metropolis, who soon began to display their strength by every kind of outrage. They commenced by attacking some of the Roman Catholic chapels, which they burnt; and, their audacity increasing at the sight of their exploits, they proceeded to assault the houses of different members of Parliament who had voted for the measures which had offended them. Because the Chief-justice, Lord Mansfield, had lately presided at a trial where a Roman Catholic had been acquitted, they sacked and burnt his house, and tried to murder himself. The magistrates, afraid of exposing themselves to the fury of such a mob, kept for the most part out of the way; and though the troops had been put under arms, and several regiments from the rural districts had been brought up to London in haste, the military officers were afraid to act without orders. Left to work their pleasure almost without resistance, the rioters attacked the different prisons, burnt Newgate and released all the prisoners, and made more than one attack on the Bank of England, where, however, fortunately the guard was strong enough to repel them. But still no active measures were taken to crush the riot. The belief was general that the soldiers might not act at all, or, at all events, not fire on rioters, till an hour after the Riot Act had been read and the mob had been warned to disperse; and no magistrate could be found to brave its fury by reading it. There seemed no obstacle to prevent the rioters from making themselves masters of the whole capital, had it not been for the firmness of the King himself, who, when all the proper authorities failed, showed himself in fact as well as in name the Chief Magistrate of the kingdom.[70] He summoned a Privy Council, and urged the members to adopt instant measures of repression; and, when some of the ministers seemed to waver, he put the question himself to the Attorney-general whether the interpretation put on the Riot Act, which seemed to him inconsistent with common-sense, were justified by the law. Wedderburn unhesitatingly replied that it was not; that "if a mob were committing a felony, as by burning dwelling-houses, and could not be prevented by other means, the military, according to the law of England, might and ought to be immediately ordered to fire upon them, the reading of the Riot Act being wholly unnecessary under such circumstances."[71] The King insisted on this opinion being instantly acted on; a proclamation was issued, and orders were sent from the Adjutant-general's office that the soldiers were to act at once without waiting for directions from the civil magistrates. A few hours now sufficed to restore tranquillity. The Chief-justice, in his place in the House of Lords, subsequently declared Wedderburn's opinion, and the orders given in reliance upon it, to be in strict conformity with the common law, laying down, as the principle on which such an interpretation of the law rested, the doctrine that in such a case the military were acting, "not as soldiers, but as citizens; no matter whether their coats were red or brown, they were legally employed in preserving the laws and the constitution;"[72] and Wedderburn, who before the end of the year became Chief-justice of the Common Pleas, repeated the doctrine more elaborately in a charge from the Bench. It was a lesson of value to the whole community. It was quite true that the constitution placed the army in a state of dependence on the civil power. But, when that doctrine was so misunderstood as to be supposed to give temporary immunity to outrage, it was most important that such a misconstruction should be corrected, and that it should be universally known that military discipline does not require the soldier to abstain from the performance of the duty incumbent on every citizen, the prevention of crime.


[Footnote 33: It is worth while to preserve the amount, if for no other reason, for the contrast that the expenditure and resources of the kingdom a hundred years ago present to those of the present day. The supply required in 1764 was in round numbers L7,712,000; in 1755, before the war broke out, L4,073,000, and even that included a million for the augmentation of the army and navy. In 1761, when the war was at its height, the sum voted was L19,616,000.]

[Footnote 34: The report in the "Parliamentary History," xvi., 37, says: "This act (the Stamp Act) passed the Commons almost without debate; two or three members spoke against it, but without force or apparent interest, except a vehement harangue from Colonel Barre (date, March 6, 1765)."]

[Footnote 35: Lord Stanhope ("History of England," v., 131) quotes a letter of Dr. Franklin to one of his friends in America, in which, after deploring the impossibility of preventing the act from being passed, he expresses a hope that "frugality and industry will go a great way toward indemnifying us." And he complied with Mr. Grenville's request to select a person to act as Distributor of Stamps in Pennsylvania whom he thought likely to be generally acceptable.]

[Footnote 36: These statements and arguments of Franklin are taken from different parts of his examination before the House of Commons, as preserved in the "Parliamentary History," xvi., 137-160.]

[Footnote 37: In the Assembly of Virginia, one of the members—Patrick Henry—after declaiming with bitterness against the supposed arbitrary measures of the present reign, exclaimed, "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I. his Oliver Cromwell, and George III.—" A cry of "Treason!" was uttered. The Speaker called Mr. Henry to order, and declared he would quit the chair unless he were supported by the House in restraining such intemperate speeches.—Adolphus, History of England, i., 188.]

[Footnote 38: On this point the law has been affirmed by a judge of high reputation to be still what Lord Rockingham and his colleagues asserted. In 1868, on the trial of Governor Eyre for an indictment arising out of disturbances in Jamaica, Judge Blackburne laid it down "that, although the general rule is that the Legislative Assembly has the sole right of imposing taxes in the colony, yet, when the Imperial Legislature chooses to impose taxes, according to the rule of English law they have a right to do it."]

[Footnote 39: See his speech on American taxation in April, 1774.]

[Footnote 40: The chief divisions were: in the Commons, 275 to 167; in the Lords, 105 to 71.]

[Footnote 41: "History of England," vol. v., c. xlv., p. 218, ed. 1862.]

[Footnote 42: "Lives of the Chancellors," c. cxliii., life of Lord Camden.]

[Footnote 43: Every political student will recollect Burke's description of it as "a cabinet so variously inlaid, such a piece of diversified mosaic, such a tessellated pavement without cement—here a bit of black stone, there a bit of white—patriots and courtiers, King's friends and republicans, Whigs and Tories, treacherous friends and open enemies," etc.—Speech on American Taxation.]

[Footnote 44: In a debate in the year 1776, on some measures adopted for the conduct of the war, the Duke of Grafton said: "In that year (1767), when the extraordinary expenses incurred on account of America were laid before the House of Commons, the House rose as one man and insisted that that country should contribute to the burdens brought on by the military establishment there, and a motion was made for bringing in a bill for that purpose. I strenuously opposed the measure, as big with the consequences it has since, unfortunately, produced. I spoke to my friends upon the occasion, but they all united in the opinion that the tide was too strong to expect either to stem or turn it, so as to prevent whatever might be offered in that shape from passing into a law. Finding that all my efforts would be vain, I was compelled to submit, but was resolved, as far as lay in my power, to prevent the effect; and, while I gave way, to do it in such a manner as would cause the least harm. I accordingly proposed the tea-duty as the most palatable; because, though it answered the main purpose of those with whom taxation was a favorite measure, it was doing America an immediate benefit, for I procured the shilling a pound duty to be taken off, and threepence to be laid on in lieu thereof; so that, in fact, it was ninepence a pound saved to America. However, the attempt was received in America as I expected it would be—it immediately caused disturbances and universal dissatisfaction."—Parliamentary History, xviii., 134.]

[Footnote 45: This unpopularity had been aggravated by another measure which was among the last acts of Mr. Grenville's ministry. The Mutiny Act in the Colonies was renewed for two years at a time, and, at its renewal in the spring of 1765, a clause was added which required the Colonists to furnish the troops with "fire, candles, vinegar, salt, bedding, utensils for cooking, and liquors, such as beer, cider, and rum." The Assemblies of several States passed resolutions strongly condemning this new imposition; but, as the dissatisfaction did not lead to any overt acts of disturbance, it seems to have been unnoticed in England at the time, or the clause would probably have been repealed by Lord Rockingham; and eventually the Assembly of New York seems to have withdrawn its objections to it, presenting an address to Sir H. Moore, the Governor, in which "they declared their intention of making the required provision for the troops."—Lord E. Fitzmaurice, Life of Lord Shelburne, ii., 61.]

[Footnote 46: The "Memoirs of Judge Livingstone" record his expression of opinion as early as 1773, that "it was intolerable that a continent like America should be governed by a little island three thousand miles distant." "America," said he, "must and will be independent." And in the "Memoirs of General Lee" we find him speaking to Mr. Patrick Henry, who in 1766 had been one of the most violent of all the denouncers of the English policy (see ante, p. 63), of "independence" as "a golden castle in the air which he had long dreamed of."]

[Footnote 47: See the whole speech, "Parliamentary History," xvi., 853. Many of the taxes he denounced as so injurious to the British manufacturers, "that it must astonish any reasonable man to think how so preposterous a law could originally obtain existence from a British Legislature."]

[Footnote 48: The division was: for the amendment, 142; against it, 204.]

[Footnote 49: The words of the "preamble," on which Burke dwelt in 1774, were: "Whereas it is expedient that a revenue should be raised in your Majesty's dominions in America for making a more certain and adequate provision for defraying the charge of the administration of justice and support of civil government in such provinces where it shall be found necessary, and toward farther defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing: the said dominions, be it enacted," etc.]

[Footnote 50: "Memoirs and Correspondence of Jefferson." Quoted by Lord Stanhope, "History of England," vi., 14.]

[Footnote 51: At Lexington, April 19, 1775.]

[Footnote 52: Lord Stanhope, however, has reason on his side when he calls the words of this petition "vague and general," though "kindly and respectful;" and when he points to the language of extreme bitterness against England indulged in by Franklin at the very time that this petition was voted. He, however, expresses a belief that even then "the progress of civil war might have been arrested," which seems doubtful. But it is impossible not to agree with his lordship in condemning the refusal by the ministry to take any notice of the petition, on the ground that the Congress was a self-constituted body, with no claim to authority or recognition, and one which had already sanctioned the taking up arms against the King.—History of England, vi., 93, 95, 105.]

[Footnote 53: It is probable, however, that the greater part of the Hanoverian soldiers were Protestants.]

[Footnote 54: Lord Campbell, who, in his "Life of Lord Bathurst," asserts that the legality of the measure turns upon the just construction of the Act of Settlement, adduces Thurlow's language on this subject as "a proof that he considered that he had the privilege which has been practised by other Attorney-generals and Chancellors too, in debate, of laying down for law what best suited his purpose at the moment." It does not seem quite certain that the noble and learned biographer has not more than once in these biographies allowed himself a similar license in the description of questions of party politics.]

[Footnote 55: In the debates on the subject it was stated that the number of Hanoverians quartered in the two fortresses was nineteen hundred, and the number of British troops left in them was two thousand. Moreover, as has been already remarked, though Lord Shelburne spoke of arming Roman Catholics, it is probable that the Hanoverians were mostly Protestants.]

[Footnote 56: The Preliminary or Provisional Articles, as they were called, of which the Definitive Treaty was but a copy, were signed at Paris, November 30, 1782, during Lord Shelburne's administration. But the Definitive Treaty was not signed till the 3d of September of the following year, under the Coalition Ministry, which was turned out a few weeks afterward.]

[Footnote 57: We shall see in a subsequent chapter that even in this reign of George III. Pitt laid down the true principles of our legislation for the colonies in his bill for the better government of Canada.]

[Footnote 58: An admirably reasoned passage on the influence of the crown, especially in the reigns of the two first Hanoverian Kings, will be found in Hallam, "Constitutional History," c. xvi., vol. iii., p. 392, ed. 1832.]

[Footnote 59: The "Parliamentary History" shows that he had brought forward the same motion before 1780; since Lord Nugent, who replied to him, said "the same motion had been made for some years past, and had been silently decided on." From which it seems that it was never discussed at any length till May 8, 1780.]

[Footnote 60: On the division the numbers were: for the motion, 90; against it, 182.]

[Footnote 61: The division in 1782 was: 161 to 141; in 1783, 293 to 149.]

[Footnote 62: How systematic and open bribery was at this time is shown by an account of Sheridan's expenses at Stafford in 1784, of which the first item is—248 burgesses, paid L5 5s. each, L1302.—Moore's Life of Sheridan, i., 405.]

[Footnote 63: "Life of Pitt," i., 359.]

[Footnote 64: Lord North was a Knight of the Garter, the only commoner, except Sir R. Walpole, who received that distinction in the last century, and the latest, with the exception of Lord Castlereagh. on whom it has been conferred.]

[Footnote 65: 233 to 315.]

[Footnote 66: It is perhaps worth pointing out, as a specimen of the practical manner in which parliamentary business was transacted at that time, that this great debate—in which (the House being in committee) Mr. Dunning himself spoke three times, and Lord North, Mr. T. Pitt, Mr. Fox, the Speaker (Sir F. Norton), the Attorney-general, General Conway, Governor Pownall, the Lord-advocate, and several other members took part—was concluded by twelve o'clock.]

[Footnote 67: February 8, 1780, on Lord Shelburne's motion for an inquiry into the public expenditure.—Parliamentary History, xx., 1346.]

[Footnote 68: 101 to 55.]

[Footnote 69: "Constitutional History," iii., 43.]

[Footnote 70: His language is said to have been that "there was at all events one Magistrate in the kingdom who would do his duty."—Lord Stanhope, History of England, vii., 48.]

[Footnote 71: "Lives of the Lord Chancellors," c. clxvii.]

[Footnote 72: Lord Stanhope's "History of England," vii, 56.]


Changes of Administration.—The Coalition Ministry.—The Establishment of the Prince of Wales.—Fox's India Bill.—The King Defeats it by the Agency of Lord Temple.—The Ministry is Dismissed, and Succeeded by Mr. Pitt's Administration.—Opposition to the New Ministry in the House of Commons.—Merits of the Contest between the Old and the New Ministry.—Power of Pitt.—Pitt's India Bill.—Bill for the Government of Canada.—The Marriage of the Prince of Wales to Mrs. Fitzherbert.—The King becomes Deranged.—Proposal of a Regency.—Opinions of Various Writers on the Course adopted.—Spread of Revolutionary Societies and Opinions.—Bills for the Repression of Sedition and Treason.—The Alien Act.—The Traitorous Correspondence Act.—Treason and Sedition Bills.—Failure of some Prosecutions under them.

The occurrences of the next year brought the question of the influence of the crown into greater prominence. Lord Rockingham's administration, unfortunately, came to a premature termination by his death at the beginning of July. With a strange arrogance, Fox claimed the right of dictating the choice of his successor to the King, making his pretensions the more unwarrantable by the character of the person whom he desired to nominate, the Duke of Portland, who, though a man of vast property and considerable borough influence, was destitute of ability of any kind, and had not even any of that official experience which in some situations may at times compensate or conceal the want of talent.[73] The King preferred Lord Shelburne, a statesman whose capacity was confessedly of a very high order, who had more than once been Secretary of State,[74] and who had been recognized as the leader of what was sometimes called the Chatham section of the Whigs, ever since the death of the great Earl. Indeed, if George III. had been guided by his own wishes and judgment alone, he would have placed him at the Treasury, in preference to Lord Rockingham, three months before. But, during the last three months, jealousies had arisen between him and Fox, his colleague in office, who charged him with concealing from him the knowledge of various circumstances, the communication of which he had a right to require. It was more certain that on one or two points connected with the negotiations with the United States there had been divisions between them, and that the majority of the cabinet had agreed with Lord Shelburne. Lord Shelburne, therefore, became Prime-minister,[75] and Fox, with some of his friends, resigned; Fox indemnifying himself by a violent philippic against "those men who were now to direct the counsels of the country," and whom he proceeded to describe as "men whom neither promises could bind nor principles of honor could secure; who would abandon fifty principles for the sake of power, and forget fifty promises when they were no longer necessary to their ends; who, he had no doubt, to secure themselves in the power which they had by the labor of others obtained, would strive to strengthen it by any means which corruption could procure."[76]

Fox at once went into what even those most disposed to cherish his memory admit to have been a factious opposition. He caballed with the very men to whom he had hitherto been most vehemently opposed for the sole object of expelling Lord Shelburne from office. And when, at the beginning of the session of 1783, the merits of the preliminary articles of peace which had been provisionally concluded with the United States came under discussion, though the peers approved of them, in the House of Commons he defeated the ministers in two separate divisions,[77] and thus rendered their retention of office impossible. He had gained this victory by uniting with Lord North and a portion of the Tory party whom, ever since his dismissal from office in 1774, he had been unwearied in denouncing, threatening Lord North himself with impeachment. And he now used it to compel the King to intrust the chief office in the government to the very man whom his Majesty had refused to employ in such an office six months before.

The transactions of the next twelve months exhibit in a striking light more than one part of the practical working of our monarchical and parliamentary constitution, not only in its correspondence with, but, what is more important to notice, in its occasional partial deviations from, strict theory. The theory has sometimes been expressed in the formula, "The King reigns, but does not govern." But, like many another terse apophthegm, it conveys an idea which requires some modification before it can be regarded as an entirely correct representation of the fact; and the King himself, especially if endowed with fair capacity and force of character, imbued with earnest convictions, and animated by a genuine zeal for the honor and welfare of his kingdom, will be likely to dwell more on the possible modifications than on the rigid theory. Even those who insist most on the letter of the theory will not deny that, if the King has not actual power, he has at least great influence; and the line between authority and influence is hard to draw. One of George the Third's earliest ministers had explained to his Majesty that the principle of the constitution was, "that the crown had an undoubted right to choose its ministers, and that it was the duty of subjects to support them, unless there were some very strong and urgent reasons to the contrary."[78] And such a doctrine was too much in harmony with the feelings of George III. himself not to be cordially accepted. For George III. was by no means inclined to be a Roi faineant. No sovereign was ever penetrated with a more conscientious desire to do his duty to his people. Conscious, perhaps, that his capacity was rather solid than brilliant, he gave unremitting attention to the affairs of the nation in every department of the government; and, perhaps not very unnaturally, conceived that his doing so justified him, as far as he might be able, in putting a constraint on his ministers to carry out his views. Thus, he had notoriously induced Lord North to persevere in the late civil war in America long after that minister had seen the hopelessness of the contest; and it was, probably, only the knowledge of the strength of his feelings on that subject, and of his warm attachment to that minister, that caused the Parliament so long to withstand all the eloquence of the advocates of peace, and the still stronger arguments of circumstances. He might fairly think that he had now greater reason to adhere to his own judgment; for Fox's recommendation of the Duke of Portland in preference to Lord Shelburne was an act not only of unwarrantable presumption, but of inconceivable folly, since there was no comparison between the qualifications of the two men; and the coalition by which, six months afterward, he had, as it were, revenged himself for the rebuff, and had driven Lord Shelburne from office, was, as the King well knew, and as even Fox's own friends did not conceal from themselves, almost universally condemned out-of-doors.[79] To this combination, therefore, his Majesty tried every expedient to escape from yielding. And when Pitt's well-considered and judicious refusal of the government left him no alternative but that of submission to Fox's dictation, it would hardly have been very unnatural if his disposition and attitude toward a ministry which had thus forced itself upon him had been those attributed to him by Lord John Russell, of "an enemy constantly on the watch against it."[80] But for some time that was not the impression of the ministers themselves. In July, when they had been in office more than three months, Fox admitted that he had never behaved toward them as if he were displeased with them, and that he had no project of substituting any other administration for the present one.[81] And his temperate treatment of them was the more remarkable, because a flagrant blunder of Burke (who filled the post of Paymaster), in reinstating some clerks who had been dismissed by his predecessor for dishonesty, had manifestly weakened the ministry in the House of Commons;[82] while in another case, in which the King had clearly in no slight degree a personal right to have his opinion consulted and his wishes accepted by them as the guide for their conduct, the establishment to be arranged for the Prince of Wales, whose twenty-first birthday was approaching, Fox persuaded the Parliament to settle on the young Prince an allowance of so large an amount that some even of his own colleagues disliked it as extravagant;[83] while the King himself reasonably disapproved both of the amount and of the mode of giving it, the amount being large beyond all precedent, and the fact of its being given by Parliament rendering the Prince entirely independent of his parental control, of which his conduct had given abundant proof that he stood greatly in need.

That he presently changed his line of behavior toward them was caused by their introduction of a bill which he regarded as aimed in no small degree at his own prerogative and independence—the celebrated India Bill, by which, in the November session, Fox proposed to abrogate all the charters which different sovereigns had granted to the East India Company, to abolish all vested rights of either the Company or individuals, and to confer on a board of seven persons, to be named by Parliament, the entire administration of all the territories in any way occupied by the Company. It was at once objected to by the Opposition in the House of Commons, now led by Mr. Pitt, as a measure thoroughly unconstitutional, on the twofold ground that such an abrogation of formally granted charters, and such an extinction of vested rights, was absolutely without precedent; and also that one real, if concealed, object of the bill was to confer on the ministers who had framed and introduced it so vast an amount of patronage as would render them absolute masters of the House of Commons, and indirectly, therefore, of the King himself, who would be practically disabled from ever dismissing them. That such a revocation of ancient charters, and such an immovable establishment of an administration, were inconsistent with the principles of the constitution, was not a position taken up by Pitt in the heat of debate, but was his deliberate opinion, as may be fairly inferred from his assertion of it in a private letter[84] to his friend the Duke of Rutland. It may, however, be doubted whether the epithet "unconstitutional" could be properly applied to the bill on either ground. There is, indeed, a certain vagueness in the meaning, or at all events in the frequent use of this adjective. Sometimes it is used to imply a violation of the provisions of the Great Charter, or of its later development, the Bill of Rights; sometimes to impute some imagined departure from the principles which guided the framers of those enactments. But in neither sense does it seem applicable to this bill. To designate the infringement or revocation of a charter by such a description would be to affirm the existence of a right in the sovereign to invest a charter, from whatever motive it may originally have been granted, with such a character of inviolability or perpetuity that no Parliament should, on ever such strong grounds of public good, have the power of interfering with it. And to attribute such a power to the crown appears less consistent with the limitations affixed to the royal prerogative by the constitution, than to regard all trusts created by the crown as subject to parliamentary revision in the interests of the entire nation. On the second ground the description seems even less applicable. An arrangement of patronage is a mere matter of detail, not of principle. For the minister to propose such an arrangement as should secure for himself and his party a perpetual monopoly of power and office might be grasping and arrogant; for Parliament (and Parliament consists of the sovereign and the peers, as well as of the House of Commons) to assent to such an arrangement might be short-sighted and impolitic; but it is not clear that either the minister in proposing such an enactment, or the Parliament in adopting it, would be violating either the letter or the spirit of the constitution. Every member of the Governing Board was to be appointed by the Parliament itself; and, though unquestionably Fox would have the nomination, and though he could reckon on the support of the majority in the House of Commons for those whom he might select, still it was a strictly constitutional machinery that he was putting in motion.

A measure, however, may be very objectionable without being unconstitutional, and such a view of the India Bill the progress of the debates in the House of Commons disposed the King to take of it. In the House of Peers Lord Thurlow described the bill as one to take the crown off his head and place it on that of Mr. Fox; and, even without adopting that description to its full extent, the King might easily regard the bill as a very unscrupulous attempt to curtail his legitimate authority and influence. He became most anxious to prevent the bill from being presented to him for his royal assent. And it was presently represented to him that the knowledge of his desire would probably induce the Lords to reject it. Among the peers who had attacked the bill on its first introduction into their House was Earl Temple, whose father had taken so prominent a part in the negotiations for the formation of a new ministry in 1765, and who had himself been Lord-lieutenant of Ireland under Lord Shelburne's administration. But he had not thought it prudent to divide the House against its first reading, and felt great doubts as to his success in a division on the second, unless he could fortify his opposition by some arguments as yet untried. He had no difficulty in finding a willing and effective coadjutor. Since the retirement of Lord Bute from court, no peer had made himself so personally acceptable to the King as Lord Thurlow, who had been Lord Chancellor during the last four years of Lord North's administration, and, in consequence, as it was generally understood, of the earnest request of George III., had been allowed to retain the seals by Lord Rockingham, and afterward by Lord Shelburne. What special attraction drew the King toward him, unless it were some idea of his honesty and attachment to the King himself—on both of which points subsequent events proved his Majesty to be wholly mistaken—it is not very easy to divine; but his interest with the King at this time was notorious, and equally notorious was the deep resentment which he cherished against Fox and Lord North, of whom, as he alleged, the former had proscribed and the latter had betrayed him. To him, therefore, Lord Temple now applied for advice as to the best mode of working on the King's mind, and, with his assistance, drew up a memorial on the character of the India Bill, on its inevitable fruits if it should pass (which it described as an extinction of "more than half of the royal power, and a consequent disabling of his Majesty for the rest of his reign"), and on the most effectual plan for defeating it; for which end it was suggested that his Majesty should authorize some one to make some of the Lords "acquainted with his wishes" that the bill should be rejected.[85]

George III. eagerly adopted the suggestion, and drew up a brief note, which he intrusted to Lord Temple himself, and which stated that "his Majesty allowed Earl Temple to say that whoever voted for the India Bill was not only not his friend, but would be considered by him as his enemy. And, if these words were not strong enough, Earl Temple might whatever words he might deem stronger and more to the purpose."[86]

Lord Temple lost no time in availing himself of the permission thus granted him; and, as it was by no means his object to keep the transaction secret, his conduct was made the subject of severe comment by the Prime-minister himself the next time that the bill was mentioned in the Upper House. The Duke of Portland, indeed, professed to have learned it only from common report, and to hope that the report was unfounded, since, were it true, "he should be wanting in the duty he owed to the public as a minister if he did not take the opportunity of proposing a measure upon it to their lordships that would prove that they felt the same jealousy, the same detestation, the same desire to mark and stigmatize every attempt to violate the constitution as he did." Lord Temple, in reply, abstained from introducing any mention of the King's opinions or wishes, but avowed plainly that he had used his privilege as a peer to solicit an interview with his Majesty, and that at that interview "he had given his advice. What that advice had been he would not then say; it was lodged in the breast of his Majesty, nor would he declare the purport of it without the royal consent, or till he saw a proper occasion. But, though he would not declare affirmatively what his advice to his sovereign was, he would tell their lordships negatively what it was not. It was not friendly to the principle and objects of the bill."[87] The debate lasted till near midnight. Of the speakers, a great majority declared against the bill; and, on the division, it was rejected by a majority of nineteen.[88] This took place on the 15th of December. On the 18th, as the ministers had not resigned—not regarding a single defeat in the Upper House as a necessary cause for such a step—the King sent messengers to them to demand their resignation, and the next day it was publicly announced in the House of Commons that Pitt had accepted the office of Prime-minister.

But Fox, who had anticipated the dismissal of himself and his colleagues, was by no means inclined to acquiesce in it, or to yield without a struggle; and on the 17th one of his partisans in the House of Commons, Mr. Baker, one of the members for Hertfordshire, brought forward some resolutions on the subject of the late division in the House of Lords. He professed to rest them solely on rumors, but he urged that "it was the duty of that House to express its abhorrence even of that rumor," since by such an action as was alleged "that responsibility of ministers which was the life of the constitution would be taken away, and with it the principal check that the public had upon the crown." And he urged "the members of that House, as the guardians of the constitution, to stand forward and preserve it from ruin, to maintain that equilibrium between the three branches of the Legislature, and that independence without which the constitution could no longer exist," and with this view to resolve "that to report any opinion, or pretended opinion, of his Majesty upon any bill or other proceeding depending in either House of Parliament, with a view to influence the votes of the members, is a high crime and misdemeanor, derogatory to the honor of the crown, a breach of the fundamental privileges of Parliament, and subversive of the constitution of the country." It was opposed by Pitt, chiefly on the ground that Mr. Baker only based the necessity for such a resolution on common report, which he, fairly enough, denied to be a sufficient justification of it; and partly on the undoubted and "inalienable right of peers, either individually or collectively, to advise his Majesty, whenever they thought the situation of public affairs made such a step an essential part of their duty." But it was supported by Lord North as "necessary on constitutional principles," since the acts so generally reported and believed "affected the freedom of debate;" and by Fox, who declared that the action which was reported, if true, "struck at the great bulwark of our liberties, and went to the absolute annihilation, not of our chartered rights only, but of those radical and fundamental ones which are paramount to all charters, which were consigned to our care by the sovereign disposition of Nature, which we cannot relinquish without violating the most sacred of all obligations, to which we are entitled, not as members of society, but as individuals and as men; the right of adhering steadily and uniformly to the great and supreme laws of conscience and duty; of preferring, at all hazards and without equivocation, those general and substantial interests which members have sworn to prefer; of acquitting themselves honorably to their constituents, to their friends, to their own minds, and to that public whose trustees they were, and for whom they acted." He avowed his conviction that rumor in this instance spoke truth, and, affirming that "the responsibility of ministers is the only pledge and security the people of England possesses against the infinite abuses so natural to the exercise of royal powers," argued that, if "this great bulwark of the constitution were once removed, the people would become in every respect the slaves and property of despotism. This must be the necessary consequence of secret influence." He argued that the sole distinction between an absolute and a limited monarchy was that the sovereign in one is a despot, and may do as he pleases, but that in the other he is himself subjected to the laws, and consequently is not at liberty to advise with any one in public affairs who is not responsible for that advice, and that the constitution has clearly directed his negative to operate under the same wise restrictions. Mr. Baker's resolution was carried by a large majority; but, as we have seen, did not deter the King from dismissing the ministry.

The conduct of George III. in this transaction has been discussed by writers of both parties with such candor that the Tory historian, Lord Stanhope, while evidently desirous to defend it by implication, passes a slight censure on it in the phrase that "the course pursued by the King was most unusual, and most extreme, and most undesirable to establish as a precedent;"[89] while, on the other hand, so rigid a Whig as Lord Campbell urges in his favor "that if it be ever excusable in a King of England to cabal against his ministers, George III. may well be defended for the course he now took, for they had been forced upon him by a factious intrigue, and public opinion was decidedly in his favor."[90] But to those who regard not the excuse which previous provocation may be conceived in some degree to furnish to human infirmity, but only the strict theory and principle of the constitution on which the doctrine of the responsibility of the ministers and the consequent irresponsibility of the sovereign rests, Lord Campbell's conditional justification for the communication made through Lord Temple will hardly appear admissible. We cannot be sure how far Mr. Grenville's "Diary" is to be trusted for transactions in which he was not personally concerned, or for conversations at which he was not present; but in giving an account[91] of some of the occurrences of the spring of 1766, while Lord Rockingham was Prime-minister, we find him relating a conversation between the King and Lord Mansfield on the ministerial measure for conciliating the American Colonies by the repeal of the Stamp Act, combined, however, with an assertion of the right to tax. "He (Lord Mansfield) took notice of the King's name having been bandied about in a very improper manner; to which the King assented, saying he had been very much displeased at it, as thinking it unconstitutional to have his name mentioned as a means to sway any man's opinion in any business which was before Parliament; and that all those who approached him knew that to be his sentiment. Lord Mansfield said he differed from his Majesty in that opinion, for that, though it would be unconstitutional to endeavor by his Majesty's name to carry questions in Parliament, yet where the lawful rights of the King and Parliament were to be asserted and maintained, he thought the making his Majesty's opinion in support of those rights to be known was very fit and becoming." The line here alleged to have been drawn by the great Chief-justice, between proclaiming the King's opinion in support of rights, but withholding it in the case of measures, is, perhaps, too fine to be perceptible by ordinary intellects. But however the King may have understood the judge, it is clear that the doctrine thus asserted does not justify, but condemns, such an act as the communication of the King's opinion and wishes in the case under consideration. If it "would be unconstitutional to endeavor by his Majesty's name to carry questions in Parliament," it must be at least equally so to use his name to defeat them. And the case is infinitely stronger, if the measure to be defeated be one which has been introduced by his ministers. For there can be no doubt whatever that, so long as they are his ministers, they are entitled to his full and complete support on every question; alike in their general policy and on each separate measure. When he can no longer give them that support, which the very act of conferring their offices on them promised them, his only legitimate and becoming course is to dismiss them from their offices, and to abide the judgment of Parliament and the nation on that act. Thus William IV. acted in the autumn of 1834; and thus George III. himself acted at the end of the month of which we are speaking. But to retain them in their offices, and to employ an unofficial declaration of his dissent from them to defeat their policy, is neither consistent with the straightforward conduct due from one gentleman to another, nor with the principle on which the system of administration, such as prevails in this country, is founded.

As has been already mentioned, the King at once dismissed the Coalition Ministry. Mr. Pitt accepted the conduct of affairs, and by so doing accepted the responsibility for all the acts of the King which had conduced to his appointment. Lord John Russell, who in his "Memorials and Correspondence of Fox" has related and examined the whole transaction at considerable though not superfluous length, while blaming the prudence, and in some points the propriety, of Fox's conduct, at the same time severely censures Pitt as "committing a great fault in accepting office as the price of an unworthy intrigue," and affirms that "he and his colleagues who accepted office upon the success of this intrigue placed themselves in an unconstitutional position."[92] This seems to be a charge which can hardly be borne out. In dismissing his former ministry, the King was clearly acting within his right; and, if so, Pitt was equally within his in undertaking the government. The truer doctrine would seem to be, that, in so undertaking it, he assumed the entire responsibility for the dismissal of his predecessors,[93] and left it to the people at large, by the votes of their representatives, to decide whether that dismissal were justified, and whether, as its inevitable consequence, his acceptance of office were also justified or not. The entire series of transactions, from the meeting of Parliament in November, 1783, to its dissolution in the following March, may be constitutionally regarded as an appeal by the King from the existing House of Commons to the entire nation, as represented by the constituencies; and their verdict, as is well known, ratified in the most emphatic manner all that had been done. And we may assert this without implying that, if the single act of empowering Lord Temple to influence the peers by the declaration of the King's private feeling had been submitted by itself to the electors, they would have justified that. The stirring excitement of the three months' contest between the great rivals led them to pronounce upon the transaction as a whole, and to leave unnoticed what seemed for the moment to be the minor issues—the moves, if we may borrow a metaphor from the chess-table, which opened the game; and it may be observed that, though, on the 17th of December, Pitt resisted Mr. Baker's resolution with his utmost energy, in the numerous debates which ensued he carefully avoided all allusion to Lord Temple's conduct, or to the measure which had led to the dismissal of his predecessors, farther than was necessary for the explanation of the principles of his own India Bill. It may even be surmised that, if he had been inclined to recognize Lord Temple's interference as warrantable, the breach between that peer and himself, which occurred before the end of the week, would not have taken place, since it seems nearly certain that the cause of that breach was a refusal on the part of Pitt to recommend his cousin for promotion in the peerage, a step which, at such a moment, would have had the appearance of an approval of his most recent deed,[94] but which he could hardly have refused, if it had been done with his privity. The battle, as need hardly be told, was first fought among the representatives of the people in the House of Commons; for there was only one occasion on which the opinion of the Lords was invited, when they declared in favor of Pitt by a decisive majority.[95] But in the Lower House the contest was carried on for more than two months with extraordinary activity and ability, by a series of resolutions and motions brought forward by the partisans of the coalition, and contested by the youthful minister. In one respect the war was waged on very unequal terms, Pitt, who had been but three years in Parliament, and whose official experience could as yet only be counted by months, having to contend almost single-handed against the combined experience and eloquence of Lord North, Fox, and Burke. Fortunately, however, for him, their own mismanagement soon turned the advantage to his side. They were too angry and too confident to be skilful, or even ordinarily cautious. The leaders on both sides made professions in one respect similar; they both alike denied that a desire of office influenced either their conduct or their language (a denial for which Pitt's refusal of the Treasury, a year before, gained him more credit than could be expected by Fox after his coalition with Lord North), and both alike professed to be struggling for the constitution alone, for some fundamental principle which each charged his antagonist with violating; Fox on one occasion even going so far as, in some degree, to involve the King himself in his censures, declaring not only that "the struggle was, in fact, one between Pitt himself and the constitution," but that it was also one "between liberty and the influence of the crown," and "between prerogative and the constitution;" and that "Pitt had been brought into power by means absolutely subversive of the constitution."[96] But no act of which he thus accused the minister or the King showed such a disregard of the fundamental principle of the constitution of Parliament as was exhibited by Fox himself when, in the very first debate after the Christmas recess, he called in question that most undoubted prerogative of the crown to dissolve the Parliament, and, drawing a distinction which had certainly never been heard of before, declared that, though the King had an incontestable right to dissolve the Parliament after the close of a session, "many great lawyers" doubted whether he had such a right in the middle of a session, a dissolution at such a period being "a penal" one. Professing to believe that an immediate dissolution was intended, he even threatened to propose to the House of Commons "measures to guard against a step so inimical to the true interests of the country," and made a more direct attack than ever on the King himself, by the assertion of a probability that, even if Pitt did not contemplate a dissolution, his royal master might employ "secret influence" to overrule him, and might dissolve in spite of him,[97] an imputation which Lord North, with a strange departure from his customary good-humor, condescended to endorse.[98] There could be no doubt that both the doubt and the menace were of themselves distinct attacks on the constitution; and they were, moreover, singularly impolitic and inconsistent with others of the speaker's arguments, since, if the nation at large approved of his views and conduct, a dissolution—which would have placed the decision in its hands—would have been the very thing he should most have desired. On another evening, though he admitted as a principle that the sovereign had the prerogative of choosing his ministers, he not only sought to narrow the effect of that admission by the assertion that "to exercise that prerogative in opposition to the House of Commons would be a measure as unsafe as unjustifiable,"[99] but to confine the right of deciding the title of the ministers to confidence to the existing House of Commons. He accused Pitt of "courting the affection of the people, and on this foundation wishing to support himself in opposition to the repeated resolutions of the House passed in the last three weeks." Had he confined himself to urging the necessity of the ministers and the House of Commons being in harmony, even though such a mention of the House of Commons by itself were to a certain extent an ignoring of the weight of the other branches of the Legislature, he would have only been advancing a doctrine which is practically established at the present day, since there has been certainly more than one instance in which a ministry has retired which enjoyed the confidence of both the sovereign and the House of Lords, because it was not supported by a majority in the House of Commons. But when he proceeded to make it a charge against the minister that he trusted to the good-will of the people to enable him to disregard the verdict of the House of Commons, he forgot that it was only as representing the people that the House had any right to pronounce a verdict; and that, if it were true that the judgment of the people was more favorable to the minister than that of the House of Commons, the difference which thus existed was a condemnation of the existing House, and an irresistible reason for calling on the constituencies to elect another.

Pitt, therefore, had no slight advantage in defending himself against so rash an assailant. "He did not shrink," he said, "from avowing himself the friend of the King's just prerogative," and in doing so he maintained that he had a title to be regarded as the champion of the people not less than of the crown. "Prerogative had been justly called a part of the rights of the people, and he was sure it was a part of their rights which they were never more inclined to defend, of which they were never more jealous, than at that hour."[100] And he contended that Fox's objections to a dissolution betrayed a consciousness that he had not the confidence of the nation. At last, when the contest had lasted nearly two months, Fox took the matter into his own hands, and, no longer putting his partisans in the front of the battle, on the 1st of March he himself moved for an address to the King, the most essential clause of which "submitted to his Majesty's royal consideration that the continuance of an administration which did not possess the confidence of the representatives of the people must be injurious to the public service." ... And, therefore, that "his Majesty's faithful Commons did find themselves obliged again to beseech his Majesty that he would be graciously pleased to lay the foundation of a strong and stable government by the previous removal of his present ministers." In the speech with which he introduced this address he put himself forward as especially the champion of the House of Commons. He charged the Prime-minister with an express design "to reduce the House to insignificance, to render it a mere appendage to the court, an appurtenance to the administration." He asserted the existence of a systematic "design to degrade the House, after which there was not another step necessary to complete the catastrophe of the constitution." And on this occasion he distinguished the feelings of the King from those which influenced the minister, affirming his confidence "that the King's heart had no share in the present business."[101]

Pitt, on the other hand, in reply, affirmed that he was called on by duty "to defend the rights of the other branches of the Legislature; the just and constitutional prerogative of the sovereign," upon which the Opposition was seeking to encroach, without even having shown a single reason to justify such invasion. He freely admitted that, if the House of Commons or either of the other branches of the Legislature "disapproved of an administration on proper grounds, it would not be well for that administration to retain office." But in the present instance he contended that "no ground for disapprobation had been shown." The existing administration "had, in fact, by an unaccountable obstinacy and untowardness of circumstances, been deprived of all opportunity" of showing its capacity or its intentions. "If any accusations should be made and proved against it, if any charges should be substantiated, it would, indeed be proper for the ministers to resign; and if, in such a case he were afterward to continue in office, he would suffer himself to be stigmatized as the champion of prerogative, and the unconstitutional supporter of the usurpation of the crown. But till this period arrived, he should reckon it his duty to adhere to the principles of the constitution, as delivered to us by our ancestors; to defend them against innovation and encroachment, and to maintain them with firmness." "The constitution of this country," he presently added, "is its glory; but in what a nice adjustment does its excellence consist! Equally free from the distractions of democracy and the tyranny of monarchy, its happiness is to be found in its mixture of parts. It was this mixed government which the prudence of our ancestors devised, and which it will be our wisdom to support. They experienced all the vicissitudes and distractions of a republic; they felt all the vassalage and despotism of a simple monarchy. They abandoned both; and, by blending each together, extracted a system which has been the envy and admiration of the world. This system it is the object of the present address to defeat and destroy. It is the intention of this address to arrogate a power which does not belong to the House of Commons; to place a negative on the exercise of the prerogative, and to destroy the balance of power in the government as it was settled at the Revolution."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse